#2 Al Iaquinta vs. Dan Hooker
The winner of this Lightweight clash isn’t likely to receive a title shot any time soon; Iaquinta is coming off a loss to Donald Cerrone and while Dan Hooker knocked James Vick out in his last performance, the memories of the horrific beatdown he took at the hands of Edson Barboza last December remain very fresh in the memory.
Despite that, it should be a hell of a fight. Both Iaquinta and Hooker come to throw down every time they get into the Octagon, and it’s also quite a hard fight to pick in my opinion. Iaquinta is a tremendous MMA boxer and anyone whose only losses in the past 5 years are to Cerrone and Khabib Nurmagomedov is clearly a talented fighter.
Hooker on the other hand has taken more of a steady climb up the ladder; losses to the likes of Jason Knight and Yair Rodriguez seemed to suggest he had a relatively low ceiling at 145lbs, but the move to 155lbs in 2017 clearly suited him – the likelihood was that he was simply cutting too much weight from a lanky frame to make the lower weight – and he’s looked tremendous since.
Iaquinta is probably his toughest opponent to date – I’d put him above Barboza personally – but surprisingly enough I’m actually leaning towards ‘The Hangman’ here for a few different reasons. Firstly, it’s notable that of Iaquinta’s most recent opponents, the ones that gave him the most issues – outside of Khabib of course – were Cerrone, Kevin Lee and Jorge Masvidal.
All three men are very different fighters but one thing that links them together in this context is the fact that they had a notable reach advantage over Iaquinta and were able to make it count for great portions of their fights with him. And while ‘Ragin Al’ was able to eventually outbox Lee – and outwork a lacklustre Masvidal – he struggled massively with the length of Cerrone, who kept his jab in his face and was also able to use kicks to great effect.
I wouldn’t attempt to argue that Hooker is as good a striker as Cerrone, particularly when it comes to punches, but he’s definitely a man who knows how to use his length, and essentially like a poor man’s Cerrone – no offense intended as anyone getting close to ‘Cowboy’ is a fantastic fighter – he loves to throw leg kicks, uses that clever switch knee to catch opponents coming in too close, and he’s also dangerous from inside the clinch.
Add in the fact that judging from that Barboza fight, he’s also inhumanly tough – body shots eventually put him away and Iaquinta doesn’t tend to use them as viciously as Barboza does – and I’m not convinced that ‘Ragin Al’ has the punching power to put the Kiwi fighter away. Hooker probably doesn’t have the power to put the iron-chinned Iaquinta away either but as the old adage goes, styles make fights – and I just think that Hooker’s lanky style meshes well with Iaquinta’s more boxing-focused attack.
The Pick: Hooker via unanimous decision